‘One giant leap for mankind': The everyday things we gained from going to the moon

Fifty years ago, Apollo 11 became the first spaceflight to land humans on the moon. It certainly was not an easy feat, as much of the technology needed to get to the moon didn’t exist.

In 1969, NASA’s massive, 400,000-person effort paid off when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins became the first men to venture to the moon. Since we first landed humans on the lunar surface, our knowledge of the solar system has increased dramatically.

“The many challenges NASA overcame forced the agency and its partners to devise new inventions and techniques that spread into public life,” NASA officials said.

The Apollo inventions have become part of our day-to-day life on Earth, many of which are unbeknownst to the public at large. Here are a few Apollo technologies that are still in use 50 years after the first moon landing:

Digital Flight Controls
Perhaps the clearest illustration of the magnitude of Apollo’s contributions is the digital fly-by-wire control system that guided the spacecraft during the mission. This type of technology was almost unheard of at the time, but now it is an integral part of airlines. The technology is even found in most cars.

Prior to the Apollo missions, pilots manned planes mechanically with cables and rods connecting their instruments to wing flaps and tail rudders. To eliminate human error and guide flight more precisely, NASA commissioned Draper Laboratories to build a computer guidance system for the Apollo spaceflight command module and lunar module.

Following the Apollo mission, NASA and its partners worked to adapt the system into airplanes. Digital fly-by-wire technology also appears in automobile features like cruise control, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control systems.

Food Safety
One of the main challenges NASA faced while preparing space missions was the need to ensure all food was free of microbes that could make astronauts sick. The agency enlisted the help of the food manufacturer Pillsbury to help solve the problem.

Pillsbury decided to take control of the entire manufacturing process, from the raw materials to the processing environment to the distribution and the people involved. The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) was in place for the first moon missions, and it was soon implemented throughout the food production industry.

Space Blankets
Space blankets were originally invented for the Apollo-era spacesuits, with multi-layer reflective insulation. Now, they are commonly found in emergency kits and handed out at the end of marathons.

NASA discovered that by layering multiple metal sheets of lightweight mylar, it could create a reflective insulation far more effective than anything else. The space agency mastered the technology, improved its strength and fabrication techniques and tested procedures for maximum performance.

Since its creation in 1964, the insulation has been used in almost every NASA spacecraft and spacesuit. It has also become a feature in clothing, firefighting and camping gear, building insulation, cryogenic storage, magnetic resonance imaging machines and particle colliders.

This technological advancement started with Apollo-era shock absorbers and computers, and now protects buildings and bridges around the world from earthquakes.

The unconventional shock isolation technology came from the company that built dampers to manage the massive arms that swung away from Apollo’s Saturn V rocket during launch.

For a separate project to help build NASA a hydraulics-based analog computer, the company researched fluidics science and developed a fluidic damper that exceeded the performance of the existing technology. In the years following, the company has made fluidic shock absorbers using the same technology, which now reinforce buildings, bridges and other structures around the world.

Rechargeable Hearing Aids
The first rechargeable hearing aid batteries, debuted in 2013, were built on extensive work from NASA during the Apollo era. The batteries used in the command module was silver-zinc batteries. The space agency wanted to make the battery cells rechargeable and innovators at NASA spent many years experimenting with cell separators and electrodes.

Although NASA never finished the rechargeable product, a company picked the project up and eventually came out with silver-zinc hearing aid batteries that hold enough power to last all day and can be recharged upwards of 1,000 times without losing performance. They are even recyclable.

The batteries have made it into the technology industry through a bone-anchored hearing system and a line of noise-canceling wireless earbuds. It is likely that we will be able to see more rechargeable silver-zinc battery applications in the future.

Further Advancements to Come?
These are just a few of the numerous commercial contributions from man’s first trip to the moon.

Now, as the space agency prepares to return to the moon by 2024, NASA is looking to create new technological advances to aid future missions to other planets. For example, the agency plans to extract resources from the lunar surfaces to help aid engineers in the quest to turn frozen water from the moon’s surface into drinkable water and breathable oxygen.

For the full stories of the Apollo technologies that have made their way into everyday life, please visit the NASA Spinoff website.